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Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino OVA is a collection of two direct to DVD episodes released a few months after the second season aired on Japanese TV. The anime show deals with the Social Welfare Agency, an Italian covert organisation dedicated to tackling terrorists who want the nation broken up into different regions. The group works in teams dubbed "fratellos" made up of an experienced older brother (normally someone with a military or law enforcement background) and a younger sister. The female half of the pairing are girls whose physical abilities have been augmented via cybernetic implants.
The show offers clever crime stories, excellent character development and a premise that will have you debating what is ethical. We live in an age were the general populace is content to let civil liberties erode if it keeps them safe from a perceived terrorism threat. What however is acceptable for the greater good? Is brainwashing children and turning them into living weapons tolerable to protect governments who are no more noble than the bombers who wish to overthrow them? Whatever your view on the subject there can be no argument that the themes of Gunslinger Girl are deeper than the average Japanese animation featuring big breasted lasses and giant mechs.
For a more detailed coverage of the actual series feel free to check out my earlier review of the season two DVD. In this article my aim is to assess if this particular release matches the quality set by the earlier collections. I'll briefly go over each episode, talk about the limited extras on offer and conclude with my views of the overall package offered by Manga UK. Be forewarned that there may be some spoilers in the upcoming text. Let's get on with the show before their Italian branch decides to send over some armed prepubescent chicks to silence any criticisms I may have.
We open up with an episode sporting the rather long winded title "The Light of Venice, the Darkness of the Heart." The episode revolves around Jean, the agency's business like head handler, and his younger "sister" Rico. Given that the first season focused on Henrietta and the second series revolved around Triela it was good to get an opportunity to learn more about what motivates Jean. A strong start to the episode reveals that Jean was engaged to a girl who was murdered by a terrorist group. The incident was the driving force for joining the Social Welfare Agency as it would give him the means to exact his revenge.
A powerful moment in the episode has Jean confronting his would be brother in law who has joined an extremist group. The promising start to the proceedings however ends in a whimper. After Jean deals with his deceased fiancé's brother he travels with Rico to Venice in order to break up a terrorist cell and the episode then just ends. The lack of a satisfying conclusion hurts the episode as, aside from giving us some background on Jean, there isn't much of a story. If the writers had structured things differently it may have worked out better, but the episode wasn't a total loss. Thankfully the viewer can salvage some story elements as a number of the issues raised get mentioned in the follow up instalment Fantasma.
The second story has Jean and his brother Jose (also a handler for the agency) go on a rare vacation to a beach house they frequented during their youth. The setting means that this episode is devoid of action, but on the plus side it offers some more character development for the previously unlike able Jean. The plot deals with the brothers coping with memories of their dead sister Enrica. Jose, who is far warmer to his partner Henrietta, appears to be using the girl in his care to replace his deceased sibling, particularly in a scene were he gifts her with a dress that Enrica used to wear. Jean who is more cold and callous, on the outside at least, is shown to wrestle with feelings of guilt concerning his family.
Fantasma gets its name from a scene where Jean confronts the ghost of his sister who berates him for caring more about his career than his family during the time she was alive. In a series that plays things straight it is unusual to get a supernatural encounter, although I suppose they have an out given that Jean was drinking and reminiscing about the past prior to the apparition's introduction. Given the setup you could explain the whole thing away as an alcohol fuelled hallucination. Looking back at the episode I suppose I could also accuse it of lacking story, but on this occasion I'll give Fantasma a pass as it wraps things up better by having the brothers come to terms with the skeletons in their closet.
As with many anime DVDs we get a text-less rendition of the closing theme. The purpose of clean versions of the credits is so you can fully appreciate the artwork, but given that the ending credits are on a white screen it seems rather pointless. Aside from the last few seconds, were you see some episode clips, there are no pictures to enjoy. All you can do is sit dumbfounded listening to the (beautiful I must concede) musical track. The DVD box also mentions that the extras section includes trailers, but I was unable to find them. Either I am blind or the trailers were a misprint, but who cares. I always consider adverts being classed as an extra to be scrapping the barrel.
The main extra we get is an interview between the Japanese voice actors who played Hillshire and Triela, which is out of place given that their characters barely feature in either OVA. It's not an interview made for the DVD, but rather the final instalment of a five part promotion released to drum up hype for the series. It's rather cheesy in parts and mentions irrelevant things like a competition for Japanese TV viewers, but ah well at least it is something. With a running time of just over twenty minutes we get some meaningful answers and I enjoyed the segment were they tried sketching Pinocchio, the villain from season two. Given that the disc must have ample space, as it only contains two episodes, I was disappointed to see no other extras. Episode commentaries from the English cast for example would have added some badly needed value for money.
I'm giving this DVD a low three stars. Be warned that I may be overly generous as I was in the minority who enjoyed season two. If you liked the second series you'll feel obliged, for completions sake, to pick up this disc but if you disliked Il Teatrino you may want to give it a miss. Only getting two episodes for your money is a bit of swindle and they aren't brilliant episodes either. As filler the two episodes would have worked better as part of the series because it's not really much of an epilogue. Season two works well as a standalone story so the OVA is ultimately needless in the grand scheme of things. I'm no extras whore, but even I felt that some more bonus material was needed to compensate for the lack of content we get. These Italian tales were alright, but like a cheap pizza I couldn't help but feel a tad unsatisfied after consuming them.